In early October, a group of six Deerfield students boarded a plane for Amman, Jordan. Accompanied by English teacher Anna Steim, Global Studies Director David Miller and Chief Financial Officer Keith Finan, the student delegates—Serena Ainsle ’16, Arianne Evans ’16, Hannah Casey ’15, Ally Edwards ’17, Quentin Jeyaretnam ’16 and Jeffrey Sun ’17—were headed to the King’s Academy in Jordan to represent Deerfield at the 2014 International Round Square Conference.
Round Square is a global association consisting of more than 100 member schools, hailing from over 80 countries, which all share a common philosophy and goal. These member schools seek to instill in their students a dedication to personal development and responsibility through service and experiential learning. This development is achieved by supporting the six pillars— or IDEALS— of Round Square: internationalism, democracy, environmental stewardship, adventure, leadership and service.
In the words of Nahla Achi ’15, a Round Square conference alum and current committee member, “The goal of Round Square is to bring together students from around the world and shape them to become future leaders.”
Once the Deerfield group arrived in Jordan, before meeting the delegates from the other attending schools, they began the trip with a two-day cultural experience. This “pre-conference” was designed by Ms. Steim, who taught at King’s Academy for two years. The intention of this experience was to allow the students some time to process and adjust before the conference started. They visited various important cultural and historical sites in Jordan and undertook reading to familiarize themselves with the region.
During this immersion experience, Mr. Miller, usually one of the leaders of the Round Square trips, reported, “The students were participating in seminar discussions just like you would around a Harkness table at Deerfield, except we happened to be in a marketplace in Jordan talking about how what we were seeing related to our understandings and misperceptions of the Middle East.”
This idea of misperceptions was related to the conference’s central theme, which was Al Salamu Alaikum, Arabic for “Peace be with you.” Every year the conference changes its location and theme, which usually serves as a means to focus the conversation on a specific issue or topic. According to Mr. Miller, the topic was the biggest difference between this year’s conference in Jordan and last year’s conference in Florida. He compared the two, saying, “The topic of this [year’s] conference was much more urgent and relevant, thinking about peace and thinking about stereotypes in the Middle East.”
Mr. Miller noted the powerful impact that the location of the conference, during such a critical time in international events, had on the discussions and the conference as a whole.
Jeffrey Sun ’17 also commented on the impact of the location: “The fact that the conference was situated in Jordan, surrounded by many major ongoing conflicts, added magnitude to it. It provided a sense of urgency, an overwhelming feeling of responsibility that you can’t just simply push away.” Sun added, “During the week of conference, Pakistan began its first round of airstrikes on Syrian ISIS targets, the UN proposed a reconstruction project in Gaza, and 47 civilians were killed in a bombing incident in Yemen.”
With these conflicts occurring in close proximity to Jordan in the weeks leading up to the conference, safety became a major concern for a lot of the member schools, including Deerfield.
“In the end there were 10 schools that decided not to go this year,” Mr. Miller said. “My primary job [as the Director of Global Studies] is to advise the school on assessing the risks of travel.”
In researching the situation, Deerfield was extremely careful. The Global Studies Department spoke with contacts in the U.S. State Department and people in Jordan, and even ran the entire itinerary through a team of security analysts.
Mr. Miller added, “The challenge is the geography; the Middle East is very small, so Syria and Iraq have borders with Jordan; and the violence going on in the West Bank was in locations where, if you took binoculars from some of the locations we went, you might be able to see [it].”
However, Mr. Miller wanted to emphasize, both to the students and to the parents, that in going to Jordan they would not be entering a war zone: “At the time that we were going, the risk of things happening in New York City or New Jersey was more elevated than they were in Amman, Jordan.”
Nonetheless, the prospect of the trip was worrisome to many parents, including Mr. Miller’s, so the school remained open to canceling the trip, no matter the cost to the school, up until the moment the group boarded the plane.
After moving past the logistics and the safety concerns, the group became fully immersed in all the activities of the conference. Through lively barazza discussions, keynote speakers, adventure trips to surrounding cultural sites, and service projects, the students and faculty of the 60 different schools in attendance were able to interact and create meaningful relationships.
Quentin Jeyaretnam ’16 said, “The primary objective of these discussions, and of this conference, was to create understanding and connections between some of our generation’s shakers and movers.”
Sun added, “The essence of the conference lies within the intellectual discussions between the student delegates.”
And Hannah Casey ’15 said, “I really felt like we were building a small international community.”
A large part of Mr. Miller’s focus on the trip was concentrated on developing Deerfield’s relationships with other member schools. “A lot of time,” he said, “was spent trying to make partnerships that would create more opportunities for students from other locations and also from Deerfield, to get a more robust global education.”
Arriving back on campus, Arianne Evans ’16 declared, “Round Square is a unique opportunity,” different from any other Deerfield trip, “because it allows students to learn about global issues from the perspective of peers our own age.”
Ally Edwards ’17 agreed: “Round Square is different from other global studies trips because it gives you the opportunity to meet students from all over the world as well as hear their opinions and learn about their cultures.”
Now, in an effort to promote the IDEALS and share the experiences of both the 2013 and 2014 conferences, the committee is trying to determine the role of Round Square on the Deerfield campus.
Maddie Nelson ’15 said, “With many clubs, the new center [name this] and other extracurriculars on campus that pertain to all of Round Square’s ideals, it has been difficult for Round Square to find its niche.”
While in the process of determining its own role, the committee has also developed a few ideas that it is considering for the future of Round Square at Deerfield. One is to hold a small conference at Deerfield and invite a few local schools to explore the Round Square IDEALS and discuss the issues that the program currently faces. The committee is also looking to expand the ideal of adventure on campus, possibly by implementing an adventure experience over Long Winter Weekend.
According to Mr. Miller, “Figuring out where the direction of Round Square is going was a big focus of our time at this conference; and as the organization grows, they are evaluating what they want to be as an organization and we are evaluating how we can take advantage of those opportunities.”